Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is an unforgettable book – iconic, tense and haunting, it follows a clique of smart, attractive students at an elite university. When the group’s tutor introduces them to an alluring way of life that’s quite different to their peers’, they soon find themselves forced to conceal a dark secret. It’s a great read at any point in life, but, for readers embarking on an academic path, it offers some particular guidance on the seven people you should definitely avoid at uni*. 

7 Dubious Characters to avoid at university

1. The Fatal Fantasist

We all know somebody like Richard Papen: they come from a pretty average background, and are so deeply ashamed of the mediocrity of their beginnings that they endeavour to create a new (and highly unrealistic) identity for themselves as soon as they set foot on campus. Often seen brooding (attractively, of course), they spend most of their college years trying to ‘find themselves’ before settling down into a pretty ordinary job. 


2. The Charming Sociopath 

Love them or hate them, we all have to admire the Henry Winters of this world. Incredibly intelligent and dangerously charismatic, this person will likely give you a frosty reception when you first meet, but somehow you’ll still be hopelessly infatuated with them for a while afterwards. In a couple of years, you’ll think back on that with acute embarrassment and disbelief…

7 dubious characters to avoid at university

3. The All-American Idiot

Loud, brash and more than a little cringeworthy, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this seemingly salt-of-the-earth individual is a bit of joke. Don’t be fooled though, All-American Idiots like Bunny Corcoran can hide more than a little venom behind an oafish exterior. If you meet someone like this, bear in mind that they're definitely not a person to tell any secrets to.

7 dubious characters to avoid at university

4. The Elegant Snob

You’ll be fascinated by this person’s sharp dress sense and rakish good looks, but will soon find that their spoilt, snobbish ways make them impossible to connect with. And yet, although their actions would sometimes suggest otherwise, if they're anything like Francis Abernathy then they're not actually a bad person - just a weak one, with a skewed moral compass...

7 dubious characters to avoid at university

5. The Unstable Wild Child 

At first this classmate’s reckless ways and penchant for drinking make hanging out with them seem like a guaranteed good time - life’s a party, and you’re happy to be along for the ride. But as time goes on and you start to crave the occasional quiet night in with a cuppa, people like Charles Macaulay will refuse to quit. It might be an idea to distance yourself, before things get out of control…

7 dubious characters to avoid at university

6. The Distant Beauty 

When you first come across a student like Camilla Macaulay, their beauty and innocent air will make you think they must be inherently good. But you’ll soon start to notice something truly dark and cold lurking beneath that attractive surface. Mysterious and alluring, this person will make you want to be around them and learn more about them. But be cautious about getting too close.

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7.  The ‘Cool’ Teacher 

On the surface, tutors like Julian Morrow are exactly what you hoped your faculty members would be. Cool, intelligent and passionate, they make you feel like you’re so much more special than their other students. Of course, you idolise them. But when the going gets tough and you find yourself in need of a little extra help, they seem to just pack up and disappear… 

*Warning: if you don’t recognise any of these people, you may well be one of them...

  • The Secret History


    Truly deserving of the accolade Modern Classic, Donna Tartt's bestseller The Secret History is a remarkable achievement ­­- both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.

    'What we did was terrible, but still I don't think any of us were bad, exactly; chalk it up to weakness on my part, hubris on Henry's, too much Greek prose composition - whatever you like.'

    Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of morality, their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

    The Secret History is a story of two parts; the chain of events that led to the death of a classmate - and what happened next.

    'So irresistible and seductive it's almost a guilty pleasure' Guardian

    'Donna Tartt is an amazingly good writer. She's dense, she's allusive. She's a gorgeous storyteller' Stephen King

    'A haunting, compelling, and brilliant piece of fiction . . . Packed with literary allusion and told with a sophistication and texture' The Times

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